Blog Archives

My essential problem with Hegel is simple: It’s not a matter of being wrong.

I must admit my Wittgensteinian inclinations make me wonder if Hegel’s so elastic because it causes most of the problems, we have to reconcile even when answering other real problems in Kant (such as the subject, object distinction). Hegel seems to be a set of nearly infinite coherent readings that are mutually contradictory, and that is a problem. Emerson’s Transcendentalism is Hegelian. Spengler’s deterministic history is Hegelian. Engel’s and Lenin’s are Hegelian while denouncing him. Giovanni Gentile is Hegelian. Many of the early structuralists are Hegelian. The Young Hegelians are obviously. The Right Hegelians are consistent with Hegel and the philosophy of the right. So one is left with so many coherent readings that a mutually exclusive, one cannot feel that what is going is trying to reconcile a system that has fundamental ambiguities which remain answered only in light of their own assumptions and lead to many incoherent answers when taken together.

Does that mean that Hegel is wrong? No, but it seems almost impossible to tell which reading to privilege and how not to hide heuristic biases in the readings. In many ways, many of the problems here don’t necessarily seem solvable and the politics implied in Hegel range dramatically as well. I will give Hegel a break, but I am not sure that this is something one can easily reconcile. Is Wittgenstein right that is essentially a language problem? Or in the elasticity of family resemblances within that thought? I don’t know.

I do know that I have less answers on Hegel the more I read him and then read how others have read him. If he is a total system, the central mystification is if the form and content of the system must be assumed for it work, then how do so many people come to so many conclusions? It is clear though, Hegel thought his own work was a total system.

A Talk by Simon Critchley – The Faith of the Faithless – Experiments in Political Theology

Some quotes on political “theology” that one should grapple with for a while

“ethos anthropoi daimon” – Heraclitus

“If the faith of the Christian Church has grown weary and has forfeited its worldly dominion, the dominance of its God has not yet disappeared. Rather, its form has been disguised and its claims have hardened beyond recognition. In place of the authority of God and Church looms the authority of conscience, or the dominion of reason, or the God of historical progress, or the social instinct.”

- Martin Heidegger

“Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”

-Jürgen Habermas

“I don’t feel nervous, but the religious co-opting of my work exists. It exists, however, for profound reasons. It is not only the result of my reference to Paul. It exists because when your work concerns the relation between truth and an event you are necessarily exposed to a religious interpretation. You cannot avoid it. You are exposed because you are no longer confined to the strictly empirical or ontological field. You cannot reduce truth to grammatical correctness or to an experimental correlation between languages and facts. You have to understand that there is something in the becoming of a truth that exceeds the strict possibilities of the human mind. There is something in truth that is beyond our immediate capacities. In a new truth there is something that is beyond the established differences between languages and facts. This is what the example of Galileo shows us. So there is always somebody with religious convictions who is saying, ‘I am interested in your work because of your correlation of something like a radical event, a newness of life, with truth.’” – Alain Badiou

“The ascetic version faces a further difficulty: once we undermine foundations, we have undermined any foundational argument against the old God. That binds the hands of atheism, preventing any knock-out atheistic blow, thereby leaving the barn door open to religious faith. Kant was being a perfect Pauline-Lutheran Protestant when he said that he found it necessary to delimit knowledge in order to make room for faith. The “difficulty,” in short, is that atheism needs foundationalism to cut off the escape route of faith, but foundationalism reenacts and repeats theism. Either concede our irreducible finitude, which leaves the infinite inaccessible and a possible object of faith, or somehow scramble over to the side of the infinite and cut off the escape route of faith, which runs the opposite risk of playing God. That explains “post-secularism,” the postmodern “return of religion”: once modernity is delimited and the metaphysical gunfire over God subsides, a postmodern version of classical religious faith is free to raise its hoary head. This “colonisation” of modern atheism by religion has particularly gotten Watkin’s goat.” – John D. Caputo on Christopher Watkin.

But it is Wilde’s views on religion that are so interesting in connection to the themes of politics and belief. Where others might have faith in the unseen and intangible, the great unknown or whatever, Wilde confesses a more aesthetic fidelity to “What one can touch and look at.” His, then, is a sensuous religion. He goes on to make an extraordinary pronouncement that describes the dilemma I would like to confront in this book:

When I think of religion at all, I feel as if I would like to found an order for those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of the Faithless, one might call it, where on an altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in whose heart peace had no dwelling, might celebrate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty of wine. Everything to be true must become a religion. And agnosticism should have its ritual no less than faith.

It is the phrase, “Everything to be true must become a religion” that is most striking. What might “true” mean? Wilde is clearly not alluding to the logical truth of propositions or the empirical truths of natural science. I think that he is using “true” in a manner close to its root meaning of “being true to,” an act of fidelity that is kept alive in the German word treu: loyal or faithful. This is perhaps its meaning in Jesus’s phrase when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Religious truth is like troth, the experience of fidelity where one is affianced and then betrothed. What is true, then, is an experience of faith, and this is as true for agnostics and atheists as it is for theists. Those who cannot believe still require religious truth and a framework of ritual in which they can believe. At the core of Wilde’s remark is the seemingly contradictory idea of the faith of the faithless and the belief of unbelievers, a faith which does not give up on the idea of truth, but transfigures its meaning.

I think this idea of a faith of the faithless is helpful in addressing the dilemma of politics and belief. On the one hand, unbelievers still seem to require an experience of belief; on the other hand, this cannot—for reasons I will explore below—be the idea that belief has to be underpinned by a traditional conception of religion defined by an experience or maybe just a postulate of transcendent fullness, namely the God of metaphysics or what Heidegger calls “onto-theo-logy.” The political question—which will be my constant concern in the experiments that follow—is how such a faith of the faithless might be able to bind together a confraternity, a consorority or, to use Rousseau’s key term, an association. If political life is to arrest a slide into demotivated cynicism, then it would seem to require a motivating and authorizing faith which, while not reducible to a specific context, might be capable of forming solidarity in a locality, a site, a region—in Wilde’s case a prison cell.

This faith of the faithless cannot have for its object anything external to the self or subject, any external, divine command, any transcendent reality. As Wilde says: “But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must be nothing external to me. Its symbols must be of my own creating.”

We appear to be facing a paradox. On the one hand, to be true everything must become a religion, otherwise belief lacks (literally) credibility or authority. Yet, on the other hand, we are and have to be the authors of that authority. The faith of the faithless must be a work of collective self-creation where I am the smithy of my own soul and where we must all become soul-smiths, as it were.

The apparent paradox is resolved through Wilde’s interpretation of the figure of Christ. In his 1891 essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” Wilde describes Christ as a “beggar who has a marvelous soul,” a “leper whose soul is divine.” Christ is a “God realizing his perfection through pain.” Wilde’s captivity might, then, best be understood as an extended imitatio of Christ, where he becomes who he is through the experience of suffering. It is through suffering and suffering alone that one becomes the smithy of one’s soul. Wilde’s suffering in Reading Gaol is thus the condition for his self-realization as an artist. At the core of Wilde’s understanding of Christ is an almost Schopenhauerian metaphysics of suffering: “For the secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything.”8 The truth of art, according to Wilde’s expressivist romantic aesthetics, is the incarnation of the inwardness of suffering in outward form, the expression of deep internality in externality. It is here that Wilde finds an intimate connection between the life of the artist and the life of Christ. – Simon Critchley

“Thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to the essence of man. It does not make or cause the relation. Thinking brings this relation to Being solely as something handed over to it from Being. Such offering consists in the fact that in thinking Being comes to language. Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home. Their guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of Being insofar as they bring the manifestation to language and maintain it in language through their speech. Thinking does not become action only because some effect issues from it or because it is applied. Thinking acts insofar as it thinks.” – Martin Heidegger

To be sure, Protestant theology presents a different, supposedly unpolitical doctrine, conceiving of God as the “wholly other,” just as in political liberalism the state and politics are conceived of as the “wholly other.” We have come to recognize that the political is the total, and as a result we know that any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced. This also holds for the question whether a particular theology is a political or an unpolitical theology. – Carl Schmitt

There is nothing more natural than to consider everything as starting from oneself, chosen as the center of the world; one finds oneself thus capable of condemning the world without even wanting to hear its deceitful chatter. – Guy Debord

Some reflections on “materialism” and “Hegelianism”: Neither/Both

The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws (Peirce, CP 6.25).

So-called systems have often been characterized and challenged in the assertion that they abrogate the distinction between good and evil, and destroy freedom. Perhaps one would express oneself quite as definitely, if one said that every such system fantastically dissipates the concept existence. … Being an individual man is a thing that has been abolished, and every speculative philosopher confuses himself with humanity at large; whereby he becomes something infinitely great, and at the same time nothing at all. – Kirkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments

There has been a move in philosophical circles since Marx, and most manifestly in Zizek, has been to take Hegel’s idealism, which is predicated on a formal necessary on the material being less real than the ideal form (an argument one sees as early as Plato), and this is key to the Hegel’s assertion in the longer logic:  the essential assertion that contingencies and materiality not fully “real” because they depend on other finite qualities to determine them, but Kirkegaard inverts the maxim on the absolute positing the whole as an illusion. However, the organism of the human person is, unique literally, a multiple totality of systems which are not all connected.

Something that has occurred to me is that Kirkegaard’s attack on Hegel was right, but wrong about the problem.  While we cannot ascribe our materialism, Marx turning Hegel on his head as the saying goes still fundamentally accepts the Hegelian totality but later Marxists (using the base/suprastructure metaphor) posits ideas as epiphenomenal from the stand-point of production, but then accept Hegelian terminology (as it required to see how Marx uses Hegelian abstraction in the structure of Das Kapital).  This is a problem, and it’s one at the core of misreading of Marx and vulgar economicism.

Instead, perhaps, we can realize something crucial:  The ideal is the form of matter, not just our comprehension of it. However, instead of consigning the “absolute” or the material to the less the than real, we can take them as an epistemological dialectic–the totality always breaks down into oppositions but the oppositions give form to the totality. The differentiation makes the undifferentiated comprehensible because both exist in our understanding of formal material. Mater isn’t stuff: it is the manifestation of energy, and energy here has its strict standard model of physics definition. In other words, this is not a case of the contradictions that are sublated, but the manifestation of a plurality that is also a totality.  It is the point of entrance which prioritizes either the total or the finite. It is related to the locus of understanding the emergence of a system, but a system is always, by definition, a reification of relations. A necessary reification to give one an entry way into contingency and necessity.

So I take heat from a obscure metaphysical note from Peirce:  what is meant by an effete or inactive mind?  What is the point or emergence?  How does this effect our view of politics relationship to the culture?  Or both essentially reification of the ecologies, which is itself a reification of social relations?    Is there actually a different from objective idealism and formal materialism?

I don’t yet know.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,419 other followers